by Nicole Summers, Communication Specialist
"I now have more freedom to serve a rural congregation," Michael Hanson, a senior in Luther Seminary's Master of Divinity program, said. He is the first seminarian to receive a full one-year tuition scholarship from the Southwestern Minnesota Synod. He and his wife, Martha, a senior seminarian, are excited about their calls to ordained ministry and the opportunity to serve in a rural setting. "We feel very much supported in our calls," said Hanson. "And we are thankful for the synod's support."
Sensing that debt significantly contributes to the pastor shortage in rural congregations, the synod appointed a task force to examine the impact debt has on pastors' ministry options. At the end of the study, the synod revamped its scholarship program to help further reduce the educational debt of seminarians who want to serve rural congregations. The synod's $70,000 scholarship fund has more than quadrupled in size in the past year. And the synod has raised $162,000 in future gifts through charitable gift annuities and trusts. In addition to the full scholarship, the synod gave 10 partial scholarships to senior seminarians this year. I plans to award two full scholarships to senior seminarians with a desire to serve in rural ministry.
"The average first-call pastor in the Southwestern Minnesota synod has $50,000 in debt," said Bill Elmstrom, planned giving coordinator and director of the synod's endowment fund. "The scholarships show the synod cares about pastors and their families. This is important because pastors can better serve their call without the worry of their family's welfare." Congregations and individuals in the synod generously provided the funds. A matching gift from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans contributed to the fund's growth. And, the synod worked with the ELCA's Fund for Leaders in Mission to administer the scholarships.
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